‘Boom-mates’ find niche amid Bellingham housing crisis

'Boom-mates' discuss their experiences in renting

Two Bellingham residents discuss their experiences renting a room in a house owned by an older on-site landlord. It's a practice that local real-estate professional say exists mostly unregulated.
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Two Bellingham residents discuss their experiences renting a room in a house owned by an older on-site landlord. It's a practice that local real-estate professional say exists mostly unregulated.

As housing prices in Western Washington continue through the roof, some Bellingham millennials have saved money by becoming “boom-mates” with empty-nest couples with space to rent.

Baby boomers have been taking the blame recently for many of society’s ills, but research by the real estate firm Trulia could put this “worst generation” at the cutting edge of a way to ease the housing crunch in Whatcom County.

My current landlord is very responsive to things like maintenance requests.

Stephanie Allen, Bellingham

“I used to do this for a few years,” said Michael Godwin of Bellingham in response to a social media inquiry. “I rented a mother-in-law suite from an older couple whose kids were old enough to be out of the house.”

Godwin said he paid about $550 a month including utilities for a room in the Geneva-Sudden Valley area from 2013-2016.

“I feel like it saved me money insofar as it was the cheapest way for me to live by myself,” Godwin said. “Had I opted for an apartment with roommates, it probably would have been overall cheaper if the cost was split. But at the time I wanted my own place, and it certainly was one of the overall cheapest ways to do that.”

Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Bellingham was $969 in July, up from $688 in June 2012, according to Rent Jungle. Zillow lists an overall average rent of $1,700 monthly in June 2017, up from $1,278 monthly in February 2012.

Stephanie Allen of Bellingham, a graduate student in library science who’s just getting started on a career in education, found her basement studio apartment on Craigslist.

“I have my own entrance to the unit, and my landlord lives upstairs,” Allen said. “My current landlord is very responsive to things like maintenance requests, and she also checks in with me regularly to make sure nothing needs to be fixed. In the past, it’s usually been difficult to get anything fixed, so this has been a nice change.”

Stephanie Allen discusses how she found a studio apartment in a Cornwall Park neighborhood home. Her landlord lives upstairs. Robert Mittendorf rmittendorf@bellinghamherald.com

In a July 19 article at Trulia.com, research intern Cameron Simons found that tens of thousands of homes across the United States have nearly 3.6 million unoccupied rooms that could be rented out. Trulia’s “Room For Rent Report” of the largest U.S. markets cited an annual renter savings of $7,979.40 for Seattle and an extra income for landlords of $10,620.60. According to Trulia, an estimated 3.8 percent of Seattle homes have an unused spare bedroom, for a total of 58,770 spare rooms.

“For retired or soon-to-retire boomers, extra rooms are an opportunity to supplement income and offset cost-of-living increases – as much as an additional $14,000 a year. For many older Americans, renting a room provides an economic boost that may help them stay in a home longer,” Simons wrote for his blog.

Tom Follis, a real estate appraiser and broker in Bellingham, said it would be difficult to get an accurate number of rooms available locally, but noted it’s not unusual for homeowners to make extra money by letting a spare room.

“It’s not necessarily a new thing. It just happens to be more prevalent because of the housing shortage,” Follis said. “It has happened over the years on the QT, especially near the university. It’s a trend that’s coming though, just because of the housing crunch.”

It’s a relationship that can benefit both the landlord and tenant, Follis said, but it’s not always legal. Sometimes local zoning limits the number of unrelated people who can live at an address, he said. Further, he said older homeowners could fall victim to crime if a tenant knowingly or unwittingly allows a access to the homeowner’s living area.

Godwin said he liked the casual aspect of his rental arrangement and the relatively quiet surroundings, but missed an active social scene.

“It was also nice being able to email my landlord and ask for an extension on rent when I was supporting myself mostly with gigs and scarce hours from my job at the time,” Godwin said. “(But) it got lonely by myself and I ended up spending more time out of my place than in. And when the internet went down, I couldn’t just go reset the router (it was in the main house, I didn’t have ready access to it).”

Jared Roorda of Everson said he rented from a retired couple for awhile.

“It’s usually ultra cheap with everything included in the rent,” he said. “Super quiet and they would leave with their RV for long stretches of time. (But) I felt like they were always silently judging me for coming in at late hours or if I ever had anybody over. Probably just my mind getting the best of me, but still.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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